10/18/2011 10:05 am ET Updated Mar 27, 2012

Social Business: A Boost for Small Business

It used to be that only people fortunate enough to have ties to the wealthy or socially prominent were "well-connected."

Today, we're all well-connected, thanks to popular social media and delivery methods such as cloud and mobile computing. We can collaborate with anyone anywhere at any time.

Businesses, too, are better connected. Once viewed as a fad for students and teens, social networking has become an important way for businesses of any size to link employees, partners, and clients -- and even go global Through blogs, videos, online forums, Tweets, and Facebook likes, customers from India to Indianapolis are telling retailers what they want and how they want it. And, based on this instant feedback, companies of all sizes can target the right products and services to the right customers and avoid costly design errors.

A social framework is particularly important to small businesses. It can help them deepen customer relationships, generate new ideas faster, and enable a more effective workforce. In short, a social business embraces networks of people to create true business value and helps to level the playing field between them and larger organizations.

Concurrently, the burgeoning mobile workforce is expected to reach more than 1.19 billion by 2013; nearly 1 trillion Internet-connected devices will be in the market by 2012, generating 20 times more mobile data by 2015. Combining the explosion of mobile devices with new cloud delivery models and social networking's profound effect on society, we now have a perfect storm of industry trends -- the ideal time to move social networking from the hands of teens to businesses and for smaller businesses to gain a huge competitive advantage.

According to IBM's 2011 CIO Study, 55 percent of CIOs from smaller and midsize businesses plan to invest in collaboration and social networking to increase competitiveness over the next few years. In addition, 77 percent of these same CIOs are looking to change their internal collaboration processes over the next three to five years. Market research firm IDC estimates the market opportunity for social business software will grow by a factor of 2 billion by 2014.

Among small and midsize businesses, healthier budgets and stronger outlooks have helped companies shift their strategic mindsets from how to cut costs to how to connect with customers and how to innovate. Eighty-three percent of midmarket CIOs surveyed identified analytics as their top priority investment area, while there was a 50 percent increase in the number of midsize organizations that plan to invest in cloud computing, as compared with IBM's 2009 CIO Study.

Becoming social businesses is inevitable if companies want to become more innovative, efficient, and resilient. Organizations that take advantage of a social business culture have the potential to transform themselves and become leaders in their industries. Shouldn't your company be well-connected?

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